I’m feeling a little beaten up today. I love dirt biking but some days you bite the dust harder than others, and yesterday was one of those days.
I made a mistake crossing a creek – didn’t commit enough, didn’t have enough faith in my front suspension to hit the big rocks at any speed – and that was my undoing. Without that forward momentum to keep me sailing over the rocks, I slipped sideways and ended up face first in the creek. Which was hilarious. The only bit that wasn’t totally hilarious was my right hand, which I’d put down to break my fall. It had connected firmly with a big rock – there was nothing else to land on, after all – and the full impact of my toppling body went through the heel of my hand.
It hurt – not too badly at first – in a kind of paralytic way. I was sure that nothing was broken because I could move my fingers if I really tried, but I could feel a kind of painful pressure building inside the flesh. An hour later trying to wrench the handlebars on difficult sections was bringing me close to tears. There was hemorrhaging and swelling going on deep inside the muscle, and it hurt like hell.
No-one had remembered to restock their kits with ibuprofen (including me), so the swelling continued unchecked. It was hard not recoil whenever I pushed on the handlebars, and the terrain got gnarlier and gnarlier. Where were we, anyway? We were exploring for a new track and thought we had plenty of time – we’d hit the new section around midday and it wouldn’t be dark until after 6.30pm – but the track followed a creek and when the creek disappeared, so did any hint of a trail. Turn back? It was rough back there, and a long way. We wouldn’t make it out before dark. Go forward?
I pored over the topographical map trying to figure out how we could get through to the next road or temple without being trapped by impassably steep gradients. You can always get down a slope, but quite often around here you can’t get back up it nor up the other side of the valley either. It’s true that what goes up must come down but it is not true that what does down must come up – unless it’s with a helicopter.
Sometime around 5pm I was leading the way down a ridge, except there wasn’t even the hint of a path. We were bush bashing through solid scrub. The grass and vines were over my head and I was relying on the topographical map and a few glimpses of nothingness to estimate where the ridge continued, and where it dropped off into the void.
“This is crazy doing this at this time of afternoon,” said my friend, as if it were a perfectly normal thing to be doing at a different time of day.
There were three of us today, and I knew that he was worried about getting stuck in the mountains after dark. He had no headlight and didn’t want to ride at night. I had a headlight and had absolutely no intention of riding enduro at night either. In my books, this was totally fine: soon we would light a fire and sleep until the morning light, and try again tomorrow. But apparently not everyone is as chill with sleeping on mountains as I am. Whereas I was willing to sleep in the jungle to avoid the sensation of stress, he was willing to stress and push harder in order avoid sleeping in the jungle. Diametrically opposed priorities.
We could hear thunder claps, and then I heard a few drops of rain hit the leaves above my head. You have got to be fucking kidding me. Here we are, in a season in which it’s not supposed to rain for months, and every time I decide to do something stupid in the jungle it bloody rains.
I was anxious about my friend’s anxiety, and the pain from my hand was distracting. But my other friend had a serene smile on his face, as always, and it was like a lighthouse in the fog. Reminding me that we do this for fun.
The story of how we got off that mountain involves some blood (from the thorn vines), a lot of sweat, and a few tears from me. (Can you tell whether someone is crying or just sweating inside their enduro helmet, asking for a friend.) Following my topographical hunch we eventually came to a cleared firebreak, which was not only almost vertical but had been completely cut off to all vehicles by the use of double logs: one on the ground, the other suspended one and half feet higher, at head height. The gap between the logs was only enough for a person to crawl through, and both ends were impassably embedded in the jungle so that there would be no going around.
Brutally, we dragged the bikes up and over and through the gap. There was no gentle way of doing it. The gap was narrower than the handlebars of the bikes, and so we had to lift and angle, lift and angle. The plastic bash plate on the CRF450RL got caught and I thought for sure it was going to break off. Instead it just snapped back with a nauseating cracking noise. Sorry bike.
The last hill ended in a sheer but rideable drop, but my confidence and coordination were lacking by this stage of the day. I kept thinking, have I got us stuck in the jungle? Will everyone be pissed with me? I tucked the front wheel and tumbled. The bike pinned me in the dirt.
I lay there for a while until my friend came and rescued me. It was the last hill, and darkness was falling. Old mate, sans headlight, took off for the main road, and I knew he would be fine. Soon he would hit the easy dirt road we’d followed on our way out this morning, although I doubted he would recognize it in the dusk. On the other hand I was pretty sure it was marked on google maps. He would be fine.
My other friend waited patiently while I took a moment, there in the jungle, and then we carried on. We had made it – we were on the same elevation as the road, and had only a few kilometres of pretty dirt before we would hit a village.
We stopped to buy fermented pork and water. It was properly dark now. Back at home base, comfortable beds awaited us. I cooked eggs and pork and we compared our bruises. It had been an epic day, on top of other epic days.
Scouting new tracks is hard.
Maybe it’s time I went on a road bike tour. Just until the bruises heal.